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Following on from this post on Daas Me, Rachel wanted to know what the Daas Torah sources are for not looking at images of women (and why orthodox publications are actually acting correctly, by not showing images of women.)

I asked Rabbi Reuven Levy (aka ‘the husband’) to pull some of the sources together, and this is what he put together.

I would love to see the Torah sources (as opposed to the ‘Daas Me’) from the orthodox folk who disagree with me on this subject. Please do post them up in the comments section.

Sources on avoiding images of women:

Do not stray after your heart and after your eyes”. (V’lo taturu acharei levavechem veacharei eineichem) (Bamidbar 15:39)

“You shall guard yourself (v’nishmarta) against any evil thought” (Devarim 23:10).

A man may not gaze upon a beautiful woman even if she is unmarried” (Gemara, Avoda Zara 20a).

The Smak (30) says that “v’lo taturu” applies only when one stares for the purpose of an immoral act. If one enjoys the beauty of a woman, but has no intention to commit an immoral act, he violates “v’nishmarta“. This distinction is reached independently by the Igros Moshe (Even Hoezer 1:69). However, the Mishna Berura (75:7) states that staring at a woman to enjoy her beauty is a violation of “v’lo tauru“.

Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 21:1):

  • It is forbidden to look at a woman’s beauty (even without any intention to enjoy her beauty).
  • It is forbidden to look even at her little finger, if his intention is to enjoy himself by looking.

R’i considers this law to be d’Oraitta, min ha Torah, in the case of a married woman, or any other woman forbidden to him.

Chazal say sinning through one’s eyes is in some ways worse than the actual act of sin:

(i) As one does not feel he has done anything wrong or harmed anyone, so he does not make teshuva;

(ii) When one sins with one’s intellect he is misusing his most precious G-d given asset, which may be considered worse than sinning with a lesser important part of the body (Rambam, Morei Nevuchim 3:8 and Nefesh HaChaim 1:4);

(iii) Shame or fear of others can cause a person to abandon his sin, this is not the case with sins involving thought (Derech Pikudecha).

Even looking at a woman without the intention of committing a transgression causes the images to be engraved upon one’s mind, damaging the soul (Chessed LeAvraham, Nahar 33).

Looking at a forbidden sight, such as a woman not permitted to him, creates klipot and shedim (Taharas HaKodesh 3).

It’s just a man’s problem if he looks. It’s nothing to do with me?

Wrong.

It’s a d’Orraitta transgression to put a stumbling block in front of someone [lifnei ever..] (Vayikra 19:14).

This means that even if the woman is dressed modestly, or it’s only a ‘head shot’, if she is beautiful to look at, she is transgressing this commandment by putting her picture in a public forum.

It’s forbidden for a man to look at a woman’s beauty, including just her face.

NB – this does not mean a woman is prohibited from showing her face or walking around in public modestly dressed. If a man, by chance looks up and sees a woman, so long as he looks away, he does not commit a sin.

So, here the woman is not responsible if the man has a ‘second look’ or stares at her. However, when posting a picture of herself, it is far more likely that a man will look at her picture closely, particularly if she is ‘good looking’, and thereby transgress. A man is (usually) not embarrassed to look at a woman’s picture (particularly) if no one else is with him at the time. However, he would be embarrassed to stare at her in the street.

But surely it’s ok for the purpose of fulfilling a Mitzvah, such as teaching Torah?

No, this would be a mitzvah that is brought about through a transgression [mitzvah ha’ba’ah b’aveirah]. In such a case, the mitzvah is void, and all you have is the transgression.


Ad kan, from Rabbi Reuven.

So, why are all these very frum, very tznius women happy to have pictures of themselves posted all over the net?

I don’t know.

But I’d love to find out if there is any daas Torah backing up that decision, or if it’s all just a reaction to pressure from the ‘ugly feminist’ crowd (i.e. people who believe it’s OK to do this either because a) they are feminists who don’t think keeping Torah commandments is so important or b) they think the women putting their pictures up are de facto ugly, so actually not transgressing any of the Torah commandments.)

So, that’s the question:

Are there any Torah sources on the other side of the debate, or is it all Daas Me?

Recently, I got into a ‘discussion’ over email about our policy of not having any pictures of women up on the Sassonmag.com website.

Long story short, one of the writers for the site felt so strongly about this decision, they decided they can no longer write for Sasson. Dear reader, I’d love to tell you that I took this decision calmly and in a considered way, like someone with good middot and a mature outlook, and with full emuna that if God wanted things that way, it’s for sure for the best.

That’s not exactly what happened.

What rankled me the most is that I felt that the site – and yours truly – were being accused of being ‘intolerant’, and this unspoken accusation lit me up like one of Saddam’s scuds.

(If you want to know why I write so much about how psychos behave, it’s because I am one.)

So anyway, I wasted a lot of time having a back and forwards with the person in question, that was growing more and more frustrating, at least for me. Thursday night, I printed off all the email correspondence I’d had, and came to show it to my husband for his view of things.

As a lawyer in the secular world, and as someone who regularly learns gemara, my husband has a very good grasp of underlying arguments, and he’s also extremely logical in his approach. Sometimes, that can also drive me bonkers, as I go so much on gut and intuition, but in this case it was a decided blessing.

He read the back and forth, and then he told me:

“This discussion is essentially meaningless and can never be resolved, because there are no Torah sources being referenced, and there is no daas Torah here. It’s really just ‘daas me’.”

Daas Torah roughly translates as the ‘wisdom / insight / knowledge of the Torah’. I.e., it’s the Divine knowledge that Hashem clothed by way of the Torah, and by way of halacha, and it’s the only real point of reference for being able to know what is truly right and wrong.

As soon as we come away from our Torah sources, our halacha, our proper orthodox rabbinic responsa, we are no longer dealing with Hashem’s wisdom and insight, we are dealing with ‘daas me’ – i.e. our own views and opinions.

And while there are places where daas me is definitely valid – like, for example, deciding what to make for supper, or what color to paint the kitchen – for the really important stuff, daas Torah needs to be informing our thinking, if we really want to be trying to do the right thing by God, and giving Him nachas.

I suddenly had an Eureka! moment, and realized that this is a big reason why I just can’t be bothered with so many of the sites that I used to avidly gobble down every day (sometimes, even including my own): it’s all daas me, and very little daas Torah.

And who needs it?

All these arguments and discussions and having a go, who needs it?

Bezrat Hashem, with God’s help, I will be doing my level best to steer clear of daas me in my writing now. Not that I won’t discuss things or won’t share ideas, but I’ll be darned careful to make sure that opinions are at least based on daas Torah, and not just flowering out of daas me.

And if I come away from that, you are cordially invited to (gently…) remind me of it.

Comets, and particularly large comets that pass close to the earth, can affect our planet in some hugely fundamental ways.

In this post, I thought it would be useful to track down some of the key ‘turning points’linked to comets in human history, as described by the Torah.

Can we see the fingerprints of James McCanney’s ‘Plasma Discharge Comet Model’, as described in THIS post, coming through in the Torah’s descriptions of things like Noah’s flood (the mabbul); the sin of Enosh ben Shet (the first idol-worshipper in the world), and also the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai?

If the answer is ‘yes’, then that gives us a pretty good basis to assume that just as Hashem used large comets in the past to achieve key milestones in the human race’s spiritual development, He will probably do so again, in the time of Moshiach.

PLEASE NOTE: The Jewish sources below were all culled from Rabbi Dovid Brown’s wonderful work, ‘Mysteries of the Creation’. If you haven’t already bought his book, please do so, as he goes into much more depth and detail about many of the points brought below, and this post really stands on his tremendous scholarship and insight.

MOUNTAINS THAT ‘RUN’, ‘MELT’ AND ARE FORMED IN AN INSTANT

The first place to start is with James McCanney’s assertion that:

“During the close passage of a large comet, the ‘gravitational wave’ is sufficient to move waves of land and rock at speeds in excess of a thousand miles per hour, across land.”

Elsewhere, he tells us that:

“Mountain chains were ripped from the ground in a brief, violent motion as a massive planet / comet passed by earth.”

I’m going to keep my own comments very brief in this post, as the biblical quotations I’m about to list really speak for themselves:

Midrash Mechilta, Yitro, haChodesh 4:

“When God descended to give the Torah to Yisrael, the mountains rushed to dispute with each other. Each one wished the Torah to be given upon it. Mount Tavor travelled from Beit Aylim, and Mount Carmel crossed the sea from Spain to the Sinai Desert in order to be chosen for mattan Torah. Though their candidacies were rejected, their honor of the Torah was rewarded by their being replanted in Eretz Yisrael”

Psalm 29 (which Chazal in Sanhedrin 116a tells us is referring to Matan Torah):

“The voice of God is on the waters; the God of glory thunders…The voice of God breaks the cedars, Hashem shatters the cedars of Lebanon! He makes them (the mountains of Lebanon and Siryon) prance about like a calf, like young antelopes! The voice of Hashem lights flames of fire. The voice of Hashem convulses the wilderness…of Kadesh.”

The prophet Nachum (1:4, 5):

“The mountains tremble because of Him and hills melt; the earth goes up in smoke before Him, and the world and all its residents.”

Midrash Yalkut Shimoni 1:47:

“In the days of Enosh ben Shet, the third generation after creation, people began to anger the creator with new religious practices…Consequently, God brought on them three punishments: First, the ocean broke out and flooded a third of the globe. Second, whereas previously the earth had been entirely level, in those days it became mountainous, rocky and hilly (in the future, yet to come the world will be returned to its original level state.) Third, God reduced the height of men.”

Midrash Brayshit Rabba 49:6:

“For 25 years prior to the destruction of Sdom, God brought tremors onto the land and made the mountains around Sdom quake to warn the people they must repent, but they didn’t take the hint.”

Rashi on Parshat Vayeira, 19:25:

“The four cities of Sdom and its suburbs were situated on one table of rock. The angel overturned the rock and with that one act, the cities were overturned.”

TWO TYPES OF MOUNTAIN

Sources from the Torah basically describe two types of mountains in the world:

1) ‘Volcanic’ mountains, that were formed at the time of creation, in order to raise the land out of the sea and give the water that covered the earth depressions in which to ‘pool’ as oceans.

2) Non-volcanic mountains, that were formed AFTER the six days’ of creation by God, usually in response to some massive spiritual event like people starting to worship idols, or the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.

And guess what – modern geology agrees!

So far, we’ve seen proof from the Torah that mountains melted, ‘ran around the globe’ and reformed on a number of occasions, including:

  • When the generation of Enosh started to worship idols
  • When the inhabitants of Sdom sinned and were destroyed by God
  • When the Torah was given on Mount Sinai

(I’m sure there are many more instances, too.)

GOD DOESN’T VIOLATE HIS OWN LAWS OF NATURE

Before we continue, it should be made clear that the ‘line’ between ‘miracle’ and ‘natural occurrence’ is completely blurred when it comes to any discussion of comets. As a believing Jew, we know that really there IS NO NATURE, in any area or sliver of our lives. Even the smallest occurrence, thought or action in the world is God’s doing.

That’s the first principle of faith, and the first rule of Emuna.

But when we’re discussing enormous, earth-shattering events like the destruction wreaked by close contact with a comet, the curtain that Hashem hides behind in the physical world essentially disappears.

Clearly, God is the one moving all these mountains around, and flooding the world etc!

Nevertheless, the Zohar reminds us (in Bereishit 138b, Midrash HaNe’elam) that:

“The laws of nature are never violated.”

Which is probably why 4/5 of Am Yisrael died in the plague of darkness, and why the world didn’t repent of its idol worshipping ways in the time of Noah, because their evil inclination had them convinced that the ‘Niribu’ of their time was a natural phenomenon, and nothing to do with God….

CHANGES IN THE EARTH’S AXIS

Another thing we learnt in the last post is that ‘near misses’ with large comets can change the earth’s rotation on its axis, and permanently shift the poles, completely altering the earth’s calendar and seasons and relationship to the sun.

Is there any discussion of that phenomenon, in Torah sources? You betcha!

Sforno:

“Before the mabbul (Noah’s flood), the apparent circuit of the sun was directly around the equator. The change in the attitude of the earth after the mabbul, so that the earth faces the sun at an inclination of the axis, is the cause of the varying seasons.

“Before the mabbul, the climate was perpetually warm due to the sun striking the earth directly at the equator. That environment was extraordinarily robust compared to the modern world’s, and the earth had greater energy in all its members, mineral, vegetable, animal and human. For this reason, their lives were extraordinarily long.”

Midrash Bereish Rabba, 25:4:

“Rabbi Yochanon teaches that the heavenly bodies ceased functioning during the 12 months of the mabbul. Rabbi Yonaton argues that they did function, but as the earth was heavily clouded, their effects didn’t reach the land.”

Joshua 10:13:

Then the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the people took retribution against their enemies…so the sun stood in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to set for a whole day. There was no day like that before or after it…”

(Again, there’s lots more to say on each of these areas, but there’s a limit to how much I can type, so I’m giving a flavour here, and feel free to flesh it out in the comments section if you have more to add.)

FIRE AND BRIMSTONE / FLAMING HAIL

One of the things that occur with ‘near misses’ with large comets is that many of the accompanying gases, substances and rocks in the comet’s tail inundate the earth. That usually results in massive flooding on a scale that’s impossible to describe (as we know happened at the time of Enosh, when a third of the world was covered with water, and again with Noah’s flood, when the whole world was submerged by ‘strong waters’ for a year.)

But other things also ‘fall’ into the earth’s atmosphere from a near miss with a comet, including the elements that form naptha (crude oil), sulphur, and many other chemical compounds, metals, gasses, small rocks and other debris.

Often, these elements ignite as they fall through the atmosphere to earth.

So one of the key things that happen with close calls with comets is that the earth can be deluged BOTH by fire, and by water, at one and the same time.

Another thing to add into the mix is that an approaching large comet plays havoc with the earth’s existing weather and geology, triggering earthquakes and volcanoes. The Torah tells us that there are 8,000 volcanoes (or what it terms ‘gateways to Gehinnom) in the world – and many of these volcanoes are located in the oceans.

So with that knowledge under out belts, let’s see what Torah passages we can find that might be describing some of these phenomena:

Parshat Noach, Bereishit 7:4:

“In another seven days, I will bring rain on the earth for 40 days and 40 nights, and I will obliterate the whole establishment which I had made from the face of the earth.”

Gemara, Sanhedrin 108b:

“The people of that time [the mabbul] sinned by raising their temperatures with sexual crimes; in consequence they were punished too by heat, with water at boiling temperature.

Parshat Vayeira, Bereishit 19:24:

“God made sulphur and fire rain on Sdom…”

Parshat Vaeira, Shemot 9:22:

“Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven and there will be hail in the entire land of Egypt, on man and beast, and on all the grass of the field in the land of Egypt.’

“Moshe stretched out his staff toward heaven, and Hashem sent thunder and hail, and fire went earthward, and Hashem rained hail upon the land of Egypt. There was hail and fire flaming amid the hail – very heavy, such as had never been in the entire land of Egypt, from the time it became a nation.”

And Chazal teach us that some of those same ‘hailstones’ returned a generation later, to help Joshua overcome his enemies as he led Am Israel in the conquest of Eretz Israel:

Joshua 10:11

“It happened when they fled before Israel; they were on the descent of Beth-horon when Hashem cast upon them large stones from heaven until [they reached] Azekah and they died. More died through the hailstones then the Children of Israel killed with the sword.”

THE SEVENTH WORLD

As we set out in THIS POST, where we discussed the six different ‘worlds’ that have existed since the creation of Adam and Eve, Pirkei deRabbay Eliezer tells us that the seventh world, the world of Moshiach, is also going to be a strikingly different place, physically, from the way we’re experiencing life at the moment.

Here’s a few of the statements we find in our sources about what will be happening in that seventh world:

Yerushalmi, Shkollim 6:2:

“Rabbi Yehuda maintains that in the future, grain will grow in one month and tress will bear fruit every two months. Rabbi Yossi asserts that grain will grow in fifteen days and trees will bear every month.”

Torat Cohanim on Parshat BeChukotai, Vayikra, 26:4:

“The Torah doesn’t promise us merely that in the future the earth will bring forth produce as it does today, but that it will produce at its maximum level, the way it did before the sin of Adam HaRishon. That is, crops will come up daily.”

Gemara Ketuvot 112b:

“In Eretz Yisroel in the future, even trees that today don’t produce edible fruits will bear fruit for human consumption.”

Prophet Yeshaya, 65:20, 22:

“There will no longer be a person who dies young, nor even an old person who doesn’t live out his natural life span, for a person who dies at age 100 will be considered to have died young, and a sinner will be cursed to die at a century…”

THE NATURE OF THE WORLD WILL CHANGE – NATURALLY

As you’re hopefully starting to grasp, the way God can cause these enormous changes in the nature of the world, and in human life, ‘naturally’, without breaking His own laws of nature, is via the massive realignments of planet earth that come along with close encounters with planet-sized comets.

There’s lots more to say, but for now, let me leave you with the following quotes about what’s in store for the world at the end of days, and I’ll leave it to you to figure out this could all be tied in to another ‘close encounter’ with a huge comet:

Midrash Dvorim Rabba 4:11:

“How will God enlarge Eretz Israel? When a scroll is rolled up, one cannot tell its length. When it’s unrolled, its size becomes evident. Just so, Eretz Israel is mostly mountains and hills. God will flatten it…then the true size of Eretz Israel will become evident.”

Prophet Zecharia 14:1-5:

“A day for God is coming…I will gather all the nations to Yerushalayim for war…And God will go out and fight with those nations like the day He fought the Egyptians at the Yam Suf.

“His feet will stand on that day on the Mount of Olives…east of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives will split in half, forming a very big rift, and half the mountain will move north and half south.”

Prophet Yechezkel 38:18-20:

“It will happen on that day, on the day Gog arrives in the land of Israel,” says God, ‘My anger will rise…in the heat of My wrath…there will be an earthquake in Eretz Israel….The mountains will be demolished, stairs will fall and every wall will topple to the ground.”

Tanna DeVey Eliyahu, Rabba, Ch.2:

“At that time the whole world will quake and the people will wonder, ‘Is a new mabbul coming on the world?’ God will assure them, ‘No, this isn’t a mabbul. I have come, rather, to make a banquet for my children and rule over the entire world.”

May we all pass through the upcoming process peacefully and safely, holding firmly onto God’s hand.

I’ve been getting a few email about what the ‘Breslov’ attitude is in relation to non-Jews, and also whether Breslov believes that the Jewish people should be a ‘light unto the nations’ or not.

Let’s start with the idea that the Jewish people should be a ‘light unto the nations’. This idea is explicitly mentioned in the Book of Isiaiah three times, in the following verses:

49:6 – “It is insufficient that you be a servant for Me [only] to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the ruins of Israel; I will make you a light for the nations, so that My salvation may extend to the ends of the earth.:

60:3 – “Arise! Shine! For your light has arrived, and the glory of Hashem shines upon you. For, behold, darkness may cover the earth and a thick cloud [may cover] the kingdoms, but upon you Hashem will shine, and His glory will be seen upon you. Nations will walk by your light and kings by the brilliance of your shine.”

62:1 – “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be still, until her righteousness emanates like a bright light, and her salvation blazes like a torch. Nations will perceive your righteousness and all the kings your honor…”

And then the general idea that the Jewish people should be active in bringing all of mankind back to serve Hashem (and that God actually very much wants that to happen), and that there is a ‘place’ for the righteous non-Jews in the post-Messianic world can be found in the following verses, all from Isiaiah:

45:21 – “There is no other god besides Me; there is no righteous god besides Me and no savior other than Me. Turn to Me be and saved, all ends of the earth, for I am God and there is no other.”

56:1 – “I will bring them to My holy mountain, and I will gladden them in My house of prayer; their elevation offerings and their feast offerings will find favor on my Altar, for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”

60:9 – “Then the sons of foreigners will build your walls and their kings will serve you.”

61:5 – “Foreigners will stand and tend your flocks and the sons of the stranger will be your plowmen and your vineyard workers. And you will be called ‘priests of Hashem’; ‘ministers of our God’ will be said of you.” [By other people, i.e. the non-Jews].

Over in Pirkei Avot (the Ethics of the Father), Rabbi Akiva tells us in 3:14 that:

“Beloved is man, for he was created in [God’s] image. It shows an even greater love that it was made known to him that he was created in [God’s] image, as it is written, “For in the image of God, He made man” (Genesis 9:6)”

The Tosfot Yom Tov writing on this verse explains that it ‘refers to all of humankind’ – not just the Jewish people, who are referred to more explicitly by Rabbi Akiva as ‘God’s children.’

Now that we’ve established that it’s standard Jewish thought that righteous non-Jews who believe in the One true God of the Jews have a place in the post-Messianic world, and that God does want the Jewish people to play an active role in being a ‘light unto the nations’, let’s take a more specific look at what some Breslev sources say about the issue of dealing with non-Jews.

Let’s start with Rebbe Nachman, who tells us the following (in Tzaddik):

“The Rebbe said that there are seventy nations and all of them are included under Esau and Ishmael: thirty-five under one and thirty-five under the other. In the future, they will be conquered by two Messiahs, Mashiach the son of Joseph and Mashiach the son of David. There is one Tzaddik who is a combination of the two messiahs.”

From this, we can see that the basic idea is the Jewish Moshiach will ‘conquer’ the nations of the world, and presumably bring them back to belief in the one true God of Israel.

Next, let’s go to Likutey Moharan I:244 where Rebbe Moharan gives a warning to those of us who aren’t on a very high spiritual level (i.e. pretty much everyone…), when it comes to dealing with non-Jews:

“Anyone who intermingles with gentiles, that is, who has business dealings with them, must be on very careful guard that this should not harm him. Otherwise, it’s very easy to be caught in their trap and to distance oneself from one’s Jewishness.”

In other words, as soon as money, or ‘business dealings’ with non-Jews come into the picture, Jews need to be very, very careful to not compromise their Jewishness and spiritual integrity because a ‘bribe blinds the eyes of the wise’.

On this note, Rav Shalom Arush once went to speak to a church in South Africa who’d just bought a very large amount of his emuna books. He got on stage in front of 5,000 people and told them in Hebrew: “You are all fornicators and idol worshipers!” That’s a classic example of not letting money and business dealings compromise your Jewishness and spiritual integrity.

The last thing to quote for now, which I think sums up the position and also includes the deeper kabbalistic underpinnings of why a Jewish Moshiach comes for the benefit of the whole of mankind, comes from Rav Berland’s speech to more than 8,000 people at the Winter Stadium, a few years’ back, when he said:

“When Rebbe Nachman was alive, he stated that he stood as guarantor for the whole world – for all of mankind, including the Jews, the non-Jews and everyone else. Because the Tzaddikim told Hashem to go ahead and create all of mankind, while the angels told Him not to bother, because in the end he would only end up failing, and there was only a miniscule chance of him making Teshuva.

“But I say different! I say that there’s only a miniscule chance of him not making Teshuva, and that’s what this gathering is all about – to encourage everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike, to make Teshuva and to return to their Father in heaven!

“God created everyone in His image, and in every person there is a spark of the Divine, in every Jew and in every non-Jew – the spark of God is in everyone, and we are all created in God’s image. And the whole point of this gathering is to spread the light of Hashem, and the light of Rebbe Nachman, to the whole world, to every Jew and to every non-Jew….

“…As soon as the whole world recognizes Hashem’s greatness, we’ll be able to immediately rebuild the third Temple, and to see the revival of the dead.”

The Jewish people is about Tikkun haolam, or the rectification of the whole world, and bringing the whole world back to God, the Jewish way. That means the non-Jews accept the 7 noachide commandments, stop with all their yoshki, muhammed and booda rubbish, and accept that God is running the world (without any help from anyone else) and that the Torah is true, and the Jewish people are God’s representatives.

That pretty much sums up the authentic Jewish approach that you’ll find in Breslov, and also any other Jewish group that has a deep knowledge of our sources, and a strong grasp of what the whole concept of the Moshiach, and Tikkun haolam is really all about.

In recent years, every time we get to parsha Mikeitz, where Yosef HaTzadik is finally freed from prison, and finally gets to see what all his suffering, loneliness and pain was for, I find myself getting in a funny mood.

You’re meant to find yourself in every letter of the Torah, somehow. Somehow, God’s put a coded message for every single one of us, into every nuance, every detail, every cantillation mark. Sometimes, you need to be a genius like Rebbe Nachman or the Vilna Gaon to have a clue about working them out. Other times, the messages hit you straight in the face with the force of a punch, and then you have to be a fool to miss them.

Yesterday, I read the parsha Mikeitz, and when Yosef starts sobbing when he sees his brothers, it struck me: the man went through a personal shoah. He lost his home, his family, everything he held dear, his status. He almost lost his soul, when enticed by Potifar’s wife, and then his faith in humanity (again…) when he was unfairly incarcerated as a result of doing the right thing.

How could he not lose his faith in God, when stuck in a hellish Egyptian prison for 12 years, all alone?

The fact that he didn’t shows how much he earned the appellation ‘ha tzaddik’. But existential loneliness, when God hides His face from you, and you have no-one in your life to love, or to love you back, is one of the worst punishments known to man.

Somehow, Yosef comes through all that. He finally gets out of prison. He finally rebuilds his life, albeit still all alone in his Egyptian splendor, with no old friends to reminisce with; no siblings to joke around with, or remember things with; no parents to encourage him from the side, and tell him how proud they are of him.

And then his brothers show up, and Yosef has to set a chain of events in train that will atone for their previous misdeeds against him, and rectify them for the future. And in the middle of all this, he suddenly realizes that these are his brothers. He’s reunited with his family physically, but spiritually and mentally, he suddenly realizes that what was, was. It can’t be regained, it can’t be rebuilt on the same foundations, because such a huge shift has occurred to the very foundation of who Yosef now is.

He’s a man who was sold out by his family, and treated mercilessly by the people who should have loved him the most.

He’s a man who had to face the most difficult, alien, exile alone, bereft of all sources of comfort except his emuna that God would eventually remember him, and turn it all around. He’s a man for who all the illusions and pretensions people like to have that ‘they are there for each other’, and that ‘they really care about each other’, and that ‘you don’t have to suffer alone’ had disappeared like smoke. And once those daydreams go, you can’t get them back, for all the wishing in the world.

So I think he was crying a little about what was, and what had been lost, and what had been done to him. But mostly, he was crying because even though they were all reunited again, really, he was as alone as he ever was. Maybe even more so.

The brothers could never go back to being true ‘brothers’ to Yosef, because even though he forgave them unconditionally, they couldn’t really forgive themselves.

Yosef was a permanent, and permanently uncomfortable, reminder to them of their own flaws and limitations and capacity for evil, and there was nothing Yosef could do to erase that knowledge, and truly regain his family.

I think this story has to resonate for anyone who’s a baal teshuva; anyone who’s made Aliya; anyone who found their life going in a direction that changed them fundamentally, even for best of reasons. The ultimate outcome is only good, the spiritual rewards are more than worth the pain and the effort.

But the aloneness of it all seems to stay with you forever.